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Author Topic: playing with birch sap  (Read 1965 times)

Offline enso

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playing with birch sap
« on: April 26, 2011, 07:22:47 am »
I have been maple sugarin' for a couple of years.  Not a big production just a haphazard backyard rig.  It's been fun and I have incorporated sap and syrup in beers in different ways.  Oh and one wine.  Maple sherry anyone?

I have wanted to play around with birch for a while as well.  Currently we are living in a house with quite a few birch trees so I went for it this year.  Not a whole lot of practical info out there that I could find so I am sharing some of my findings thus far for anyone who wants to try collecting and utilizing birch sap.

I said playing because I have been far from scientific about it.  Hardly measuring and not being at all methodical.  Maybe next year...

So, to start tapping.  I tapped one birch at the same time I tapped my maples.  I was a bit late tapping this year at around the 3rd week of March.  When I bored the hole on the birch it was dry.  Usually when you tap a maple at the right time sap begins to come out as you are boring the hole.  Bone dry the birch was.  Not even moisture on the shavings.  I popped a spigot in anyways and hung a bucket just in case.  I checked it each day as I emptied the maple buckets.  Nada.  I tried another hole in case the first was just not in a good spot.  I.e., not sunny enough, not over a good main root etc...  Still nothing.

Fast forward a few weeks.  April has begun the maples are slowing down and I have finished boiling so I pulled the taps.  I notice from my kitchen window dark gray lines on the birch coming form the hole s I left.  Sap has started to flow.  I would say it was maybe the second week of April?  Again, not methodical at all!  So I put the spigots back in and hung 2 buckets.  I figured I would collect a little and boil it down some and see what it tasted like anyway.  I knew I was not going to have enough to make any syrup.  The sugar concentration is much lower than maple.  I was getting around 1.002 for gravity.  I have heard it takes up to 100 gallons of birch sap to make 1 gallon of syrup! 

Since I had started to believe it was not going to work I did not have a plan of what to do so I really was not into it once it started actually flowing.  It was still freezing at night at this point and I had some of the buckets freeze nearly solid as I was rather lax about emptying them everyday.  I figured I would use that to my advantage as that helps to concentrate sugars before boiling.  I started intentionally freezing and discarding ice.  Did not help a whole lot but it brought the concentration up to about 1.008 with a big decrease in volume.  It is not the most effective concentration method as you will always loose some sugar in the ice you throw out.

Eventually I decided on a purpose for the sap.  As I would not collect a lot overall and boiling it to concentrate would further reduce volume I decided to make a 1 gallon batch of a hydromel.  I figured a low gravity mead would allow some of the flavor (if any where to remain) to still be detected.  Very haphazardly I collected sap, froze some boiled other bits...  If this turns out well I will NOT be able to repeat it.   ::)

I added an unmeasured amount of honey...   :-[  Whatever was left in the pint mason jar I had...   ;D

Gravity was 1.041.  At least I measured something!  We shall see how it goes.

I continued to collect about 3 gallons of further sap.  Pulled the plug yesterday.  More on that in a moment.  I boiled that down to a little under a quart.  I figured I would top up the hydromel with some of it.  This morning I took a gravity reading and I'll be damned!  It smelled like unhopped wort!  It was @ 1.056 for gravity.  I thought perhaps I grabbed the wrong mason jar out of the fridge at first.  I tasted it.  It definintley had a very bready malty wort flavor but I could also taste the birch flavors.  I am having trouble describing those.  Sort of a slight rootbeer candy taste and a ever so slight bit of sour.  For some reason I want to say horehound candy though I don't believe I have ever had any.   ???  I guess just some type of old fashioned candy that is...  No wait!  I got it!  Riccola!  The cough drops!  Yeah!  That is the flavor mixed with wort!  Interesting...

Okay so I have rambled on for a long with lot's of possibly unusable info...   :-\

One last point.  I had read from folks talking about tapping birch that you need to plug the hole when ou are done.  Never done that for maple.  I usually always heals itself.  I thought maybe it was just a precaution and not actually necessary.  However, the trees did not seem to be slowing down.  They were still gushing pretty good.  They seem to really flow when it rains, and no it was not rain water filling the bucket.  So I stoppered them with a stick that I whittled the bark off of and cut flush to the tree.Then I rubbed parrafin and melted it slightly with a lighter.  Bee wax would probably have been better.  Unfortunately the sapped started to weep through anyway!  I will keep checking them.  Hopefully I do not damage the trees.

Next year perhaps some more controlled data will be collected!   ;D
Dave Brush

Offline morticaixavier

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Re: playing with birch sap
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2011, 08:55:13 am »
sounds like fun! I miss vermont. going to be back there this summer for a couple of weeks though. Get a beer at the Needs. have some proper chinese food at single pebble. watch a thunderstorm.
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